New Senate Bill Aims to Ban Use of Traditional Lead Ammunition on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Lands

New Senate Bill Aims to Ban Use of Traditional Lead Ammunition on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Lands

There is news for American hunters and shooters coming out of Capitol Hill this week as U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) just introduced a Senate bill banning the use of traditional lead ammunition on federal public lands managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Titled S. 4157, the bill would include 568 National Wildlife Refuges, encompassing more than 150 million acres of land and water. As chairwoman of the Senate Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife and the top Democrat on Senate wildlife policy, Duckworth is pushing the bill as the counterpart to H.R. 405 that was introduced in the House by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) last year.

As described on the website, S. 4157 would require the Secretary of the Interior (SOI), acting through the director of the USFWS, “to promulgate regulations prohibiting the use of lead ammunition on all land and water under the jurisdiction and control of the USFWS, and other for purposes.” S.4157 asserts that not only can lead harm wildlife, but that “lead ammunition endangers human food supplies … and spent lead ammunition can also contaminate crops, vegetation, and waterways; [and that] humans are at risk of lead toxicosis through the consumption of game meat harvested with lead ammunition … .”

Not so fast, note groups such as the National Rifle Association, which champion decisions based on actual scientific evidence, which shows that traditional ammunition does not pose a significant population-level risk. The real goal is to attack America’s hunting and outdoor heritage.

In fighting for hunters, NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) has been embroiled in this issue for years. Many will recall the Obama administration’s last-minute blow to sportsmen in January 2017 when outgoing SOI Dan Ashe banned the use of all lead ammunition and fishing tackle on national wildlife refuges by 2022. NRA-ILA noted how the Obama administration had acted without ever consulting with state fish and wildlife agencies or national angling and hunting organizations. Of course, making science-based decisions was never the goal. The NRA and other groups rallied and in March 2017 the new Trump administration put SOI Ryan Zinke in charge, who began his first day on the job by issuing Secretarial Order 3346 to overturn Ashe’s unilateral overreach.

As the shooting sports industry’s trade organization, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) also supports the use of science, issuing a fact sheet explaining how wildlife management policy is based on managing population impacts—not on preventing isolated instances of harm to specific individual animals in a species. “Absent sound scientific evidence demonstrating a population impact caused by using traditional ammunition,” it notes, “there is no justification for restricting or banning its use.”

Neither the Senate nor House bill points to actual negative wildlife population impacts directly attributed to lead ammunition. The bills simply assert that since lead, which is a proven neurotoxin, can be dangerous to wildlife and humans, lead ammunition should be banned on federal lands. Considering there are numerous shooting ranges on federal lands, NSSF also noted that “even … the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not consider expended ammunition at shooting ranges to be [an environmental] problem.”

A very sensationalized report from over a decade ago claimed that hunter-harvested game was a major source of human lead consumption. Yet, a 2008 study done by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on blood lead levels of North Dakota hunters confirmed that consuming game harvested with traditional ammunition didn’t pose a risk to human health.

“In looking more closely at the CDC study results, perhaps most telling is the fact that the average lead level of the hunters tested was lower than that of the average American,” the NSSF noted at the time. “In other words, if you were to randomly pick someone on the street, chances are they would have a higher blood lead level than the hunters in this study.”

Additionally, the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) tested the blood lead levels of Iowa residents for over 15 years and found no evidence of lead ammunition being ingested by people. As IDPH also reported, “IDPH maintains that if lead in venison were a serious health risk, it would likely have surfaced within extensive blood lead testing since 1992 with 500,000 youth under 6 and 25,000 adults having been screened.” Iowa has never had a case of a hunter having elevated lead levels caused by consuming harvested game.

A ban on traditional lead ammunition also could have negative consequences for wildlife conservation in this nation. Ammunition manufacturers pay an 11 percent federal excise tax on the sale of the ammunition. This tax and a similar one of firearms are the primary sources of American wildlife conservation funding.

The higher cost of alternative, non-lead ammunition could price everyday hunters out of the market, reducing the amount of hunting they do. This, in turn, would reduce the amount of funds flowing into wildlife conservation and habitat restoration projects across the country.

Again, according to NRA-ILA, lead ammunition bans are more about trying to stop hunting. For another example, in April 2021, legislators in Maine were considering Legislative Document 1015 prohibiting the use of lead ammunition while hunting. As NRA-ILA noted, “The use of lead ammunition is under attack by anti-hunting and anti-gun extremists who ignore science and misinform policy makers and the public on the effects of extremely small amounts of lead. In truth, these extremists want lead ammunition banned because it discourages participation in hunting and shooting.”

Underscoring the economic side of the issue, NRA-ILA continued, “Traditional ammunition is significantly cheaper than its alternatives. Increasing the price of ammunition will only ensure lower income hunters likely won’t be able to provide food for their families. Further, the alternatives to lead ammunition can be less lethal (and therefore less ethical for hunting), and generally are not better for the environment. Make no mistake: The ultimate goal [of such legislation] is to end hunting, and this is the first step.”

At this time, the new federal anti-lead bills have only been introduced and will need to be reviewed by various House and Senate committees before possibly being brought before the full House and Senate for consideration.

This NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum website will continue to monitor these bills and inform the public that traditional lead ammunition is not the menacing threat some would have us believe.

About the Author contributor Brian McCombie is a field editor for the NRA’s American Hunter and writes about firearms and gear for the NRA’s Shooting Illustrated. He is a member of the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Brian likes hunting hogs, shooting 1911s chambered in 10 mm and .45 ACP, watching the Chicago Bears and relaxing with his two cats, Peanut Morgan and MikaBear.